This 3rd Sunday of Easter we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord from the grave. In this second essay we focus on a claim that has shared consensus: Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion. Death by crucifixion was a common form employed by Romans to execute common criminals. Dr. Michael Licona’s 700+ page book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, cites Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, Philo and Josephus as reporting that prior to crucifixions the subjects were flogged or whipped. (Licona, 4.3.1) History records that after the brutal torture, the subjects were then followed by crowds to be nailed to a cross or tree. The details of the crucifixion styles by Roman soldiers is well documented.
The first reason to know that Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross from being crucified is that his death is attested by a fair number of ancient sources (Christian and non-Christian). (Licona, 4.3.1) Josephus (original Antiquities of the Jews) has likely reported the event in his original version. Then Tacitus, Lucian, and Mar bar Serapion are all definitely aware of the event. Lucian states that the crucifixion took place in Palestine. Christian sources depict the account in many places, specifically the Gospels and other non-canonical books of the period. Interestingly enough, there are no writings denying or stating the contrary.
Secondly, the reports of the death of Jesus are close to the date of the event. Scholars who have studied 1 Corinthians 15:3 agree that the teaching Paul is speaking of is something he received from others. Therefore the teaching he is reciting in 1 Corinthians predates the writing of the epistle. Many scholars have also concluded that this teaching reflected the teachings of the apostles from Jerusalem on the resurrection of Jesus. It is very likely that this reading was the original from the disciples. (Licona, 4.3.1)
Third, the Passion Narratives describing the crucifixion meet the criteria stated in the previous essay of embarrassing details and peripheral details. Both give the account more credibility. Compare the account of the crucifixion of Jesus with those previous Jewish martyrs who responded to their torture and executions with bravery. Jesus suffered, he was beaten and his disciples all abandoned him. These are not indicators of faithfulness and courage but weakness and fear. There isn’t enough space to describe the many peripheral details but one would be Luke 23:27. (Licona, 4.3.1)
A fourth evidence to consider to the death of Jesus of Nazareth by crucifixion is the low probability of survival of such a gruesome event. The torture that preceded crucifixion was often more than enough to take the life of the persons. Often their faces were horribly disfigured, their bowels would hang out, and of course they would bleed to death. If by chance they made it to the cross, death would be certain after moments. If Jesus somehow had received immediate medical attention it is unlikely he would have survived. However there is no evidence that Jesus was removed while he was alive much less received the best medical attention. To deny that Jesus died by crucifixion would be going against the tide of scholars (atheist, agnostics, Jewish, etc) who have studied the data . (Licona, 4.3.1)